Scully gazes out of the passenger window, watching the trees and scenery pass by as Mulder guides the silver Taurus along the one-lane, rural highway with one hand on the steering wheel, the other busy caressing the back of Scully’s fingers. A small chime dings from her phone and she reluctantly releases her hand from Mulder’s grip to check the message.
“Skinner says he got my report and he agrees with my autopsy findings, but he doesn’t mention your report at all.”
Mulder keeps his face straight ahead toward the road, but his eyes bounce from the highway to Scully and back again.
“Mulder. Did you send the report?” Scully presses.
“I did. Well, I was going to--”
“Mulder, I swear--” she mutters under her breath.
“I was! It’s fully written, I just haven’t submitted it. That was on my agenda for this morning before we were to leave for the airport, but I was….distracted,” he explains with a grin.
Scully huffs in response, taking his hand once more and looking again out of the passenger window. “Well, I guess we need to spend some more time working on your ability to multi-task.”
Thick dust clouds the windshield as Mulder turns the car up the driveway to a shabby, wooden building, the tires disrupting the gravel as they slow to a stop. A large, burly man stands atop the cracked and worn steps directly in front of the car. As Mulder and Scully exit the vehicle, the man hitches his pants higher over his bulging waist and meanders down from the porch to greet the two agents.
“Howdy,” the man bellows in greeting, sunlight glinting off the star pinned on his chest. “Welcome to Three Rivers, Texas.” His smile is large under his thick moustache and he shakes each agent’s hand with genuine enthusiasm.
“Thank you, Sheriff…” Mulder pauses, waiting for the man to provide his name.
“Oh, goodness, where are my manners? Turner. Sheriff Tom Turner.” He guides them up the steps and holds the creaky wooden door open for them. “Y’all come on in now, and I’ll explain why I called you good folks out here.”
“Agent Mulder was telling me on the flight here that there have been a series of missing persons cases,“ Scully says as she takes a seat in one of the two cowhide covered leather chairs opposite the sheriff’s desk. “Starting in 2014 there have been fifteen people reported missing, all of which have ended up being found dead in the river.”
“Yes, ma’am, that’s correct,” Sheriff Turner responds as he takes his seat behind the large oak desk. He reaches into a drawer and pulls out a stack of photographs and slides them over to Scully. “We haven’t been able to pinpoint a pattern. Five men, three women, seven children. Not a single connection between them. And the fifteen are only the ones from Three Rivers. Calliham’s got five more, and Tilden’s reportin’ eight. Somethin’ ain’t right.”
“I saw a pamphlet for Choke Canyon State Park at the airport. Is that near here, Sheriff?” Mulder aks.
Sheriff Turner leans back in his chair and takes his cowboy hat off his head, resting it on his knee. He swipes at the sweaty gray hair plastered to his forehead as he answers. “Yep. That’s our pride right there. Three Rivers is known as the gateway to the Choke Canyon Reservoir. If these people had been tourists, you know, hippies from Austin or Dallas or somethin’ I would think maybe all this was just a rash of stupidity. Ya know, nature takin’ course. But these are locals. These folks know how to navigate this terrain.”
Scully flips through the last of the photographs and looks up at the sheriff. “Every one of these was a reported drowning. Are you suspecting foul play in all of these cases? Couldn’t they have been accidents?”
“If they had been out tubin’ the Frio, sure. But these people were reported missing from all over the area, not a one of them was reported to be seen anywhere near water. And it’s like I told Agent Mulder on the phone, the locals ‘round here think something...otherworldly might be takin’ place and I’m startin’ to agree with ‘em.”
Scully narrows her eyes and slowly turns her head towards Mulder who is studiously avoiding her gaze by picking at a loose thread in the hem of his slacks. Scully opens her mouth to let loose the barrage of questions that are stacking up in her brain when an older woman wearing a vest adorned in colorful buttons makes her presence known in the doorway.
“Oh my God, y’all. I didn’t know we had visitors. Can I get you folks some coffee?”
Mulder, thankful for the distraction perks up at the sight of the Sheriff’s secretary. “Actually, a cup of coffee would be great, thank you. Scully, would you like some coffee?”
“None for me, thanks,” Scully deadpans, her eyes still sharply directed at her partner.
“I’ll be sure to get you a cup real soon, sugar. And speaking of sugar, you’re gonna have to take it black as we’re all out of cream and sugar and such. Oh, Sheriff, Officer Bergen is on line two, he says it’s urgent.”
“Thanks, Darlene,” Sheriff Turner rises from this seat and gestures for Mulder and Scully to take their exit. “I’m actually going to pass you off to Deputy Villarreal across the hall here, just follow Darlene. The deputy can fill you in on the weeping woman.”
“The weeping woman?” Scully asks, but is denied an answer as Darlene guides them to an office on the opposite end of the small hallway.
“Right through here, Agents. Make yourselves comfortable, Deputy Villarreal will be right with you.” the clanking of the secretary’s buttons recede as she makes her way across the building.
Alone, Scully leans over into Mulder’s space and whispers in his ear, her voice soft yet harsh. “The weeping woman, Mulder? Really?”
“Look, Scully, I--”
“Hello, Agents, I hope you weren’t waiting long,” the Deputy announces as he enters the tiny office. “Darlene just shoved this piping hot mug into my hands and told me to deliver it to the handsome FBI Man, I assume she’s referring to you,” he smirks as he hands the mug to Mulder before taking a seat at his desk. He runs a hand through unruly, dark hair before pulling a bandana out of his pocket and dabbing at the sweat that dots the tan skin of his forehead.
“Deputy Marcus Villarreal,” the Deputy offers along with an outstretched hand. “Sheriff Turner told me y’all might be coming out here. I assume he already told you about his little ghost theory?”
“Special Agent Fox Mulder and this is my partner, Special Agent Dana Scully,” Mulder introduces, placing the mug on the desk and reaching over to shake the young deputy’s hand. “No, I was hoping you wouldn’t mind going into more detail for us.”
“La Llorona.” Marcus responds, leaning close over his desk, the rolling of his slight accent sounding like a dark melody within the small confines of his office.
“I’m sorry?” Scully asks, her eyebrows raised in a mixture of confusion and skepticism.
Marcus leans back and chuckles, his smile wide and his eyes crinkled in amusement. “La Llorona,” he repeats. “The weeping woman. It’s a common Mexican ghost story heard around these parts. La Llorona was a beautiful woman who fell in love with a handsome ranchero who later scorned her and in retaliation she drowned her children. Nobody grows up around here without someone’s abuela warning them not to be bad or La Llorona will come after them and throw them in the river.”
“And do you believe the stories are true?” Mulder asks.
A silence fills the room as Marcus looks from one agent to the other. The ticking of the Deputy's desktop clock and slight hum of the air conditioning are the only sounds noticeable.
“Ha!” The sharp bark jolts Mulder and Scully in their seats. “Are you fucking serious?” Marcus laughs. “No, gringo! It’s just a stupid little tale told to children to keep them in line. Now, look. Are there locals out there running around crying for us to stop La Llorona? Of course there are. What I don’t understand is why we are lending any credence to any of that bullshit. Well, actually, I think I might. Between you and me, Sheriff Turner will believe anything.”
A smirk graces Scully’s features as she tosses a glance in Mulder’s direction. “I know the type.”
Marcus nods his head in understanding, eyeballing Mulder up and down. “I see. So Sheriff Turner found a kindred spirit, huh? Look, ghosts aside, I’m not completely dismissing the La Llorona theory. Now before you get all excited,” he asserts in response to Mulder’s open mouth, “I don’t think an actual ghost is at work here. However, I do think someone might be trying to pretend to be her. Maybe someone is reenacting the tale.”
Any response Mulder thought of forming was cut off by the presence of Sheriff Turner at the open door. “Folks, we got another one. Two actually. Twin boys went missing from their grandmother’s backyard. I’m putting everyone I got on this case.” Turner rubs the tension from the back of his neck before continuing. “You two settle into a motel yet?”
“No, not yet. That’s our next stop,” Mulder answers.
“Good, do me a favor and don’t. All of the bodies keep washing up along a particular stretch of the Frio River. I really need the two of you along with Marcus here to camp out there tonight, see if you spot anything.” Lifting his head higher, he addresses Marcus. “You got extra gear you can hook them up with?”
“Yes, I do. You two can meet me at my house in a couple of hours,” he responds while scribbling on a small piece of paper.
Moments later, with the deputy’s address in hand, Mulder and Scully make their way back down the wooden steps to their waiting car. Across the top of the sedan, Scully casts a vicious glare in her partner’s direction.
“Really Mulder? A ghost is killing people and throwing them in the river? Really? You brought me to Texas to investigate a murderous ghost?”
Mulder refuses to meet the look he knows she’s throwing him, instead choosing to look out over the noontime horizon. “Well, um, honestly, I figured I-- I had a better shot of you agreeing to come with me if uh, I left a little mystery,“ he stammers. “You weren’t exactly thrilled all those years ago at the prospect of chasing down vampires and I won’t even bring up Dallas.”
“I hate this state,” Scully mutters under ther breath and lowers herself into the passenger seat.
Later that afternoon, Mulder drives the silver Taurus down the dirt path through the gate of Marcus Villarreal’s expansive rural property. A large ranch house sits at the center of the acreage. The path continues around the right side of the house, towards a large fenced area where horses are roaming about. Marcus’ large pickup truck sits parked in front of the stable, various camping supplies strewn about. The Deputy comes around the other side of his vehicle to greet them.
“Welcome! If you’ll help me toss some of these supplies into the truck, we’ll get on our way. I’ve got a two-person tent and three sleeping bags. I figure, we’ll be taking turns keeping watch through the night.”
“That’s not a problem at all,” Mulder says, grabbing a sleeping bag and tossing it into the truck as Scully reaches into the back seat of their rental car, grabbing their bags.
A beautiful woman with long, black hair whipping around her face in the wind exits the side door of the house and makes her way towards them. Marcus looks up and gestures towards the woman. “Agent Mulder, Agent Scully, this is my wife, Araceli.”
She shakes their hands with a firm, unwavering grip. “Nice to meet you both. Marcus, what’s going on? What’s with the camping supplies?”
“Sorry, babe, I didn’t get the chance to tell you. Sheriff Turner is having me and the agents camp out along the Frio. Two little boys have gone missing.”
Araceli nods, her head moving slowly as she processes the information. “You were gone last weekend too.”
Marcus sighs and crosses over to his wife. He brushes a lock of dark hair behind her ear, his touch gentle. “Baby, you know this is my job.”
“But you promised your son that--”
“I know, I know. I already spoke to him, he understands. He’ll have other football games. But you know this is important.”
Her shoulders rise and fall in a deep sigh. “Okay,” she concedes, turning her head so his kiss falls on her cheek instead of her lips, before wheeling around and making her way back to the house.
The three of them pile into Marcus’s truck, Scully taking the passenger seat while Mulder crams his long legs into the crew cab.
Leaning forward, his head between his partner and the deputy he asks, “So, Marcus, two stakeouts in two weekends? That’s gotta be hard on the family. What kind of case were you working on? Was it related to the mysterious deaths we’re investigating?”
Marcus keeps his eyes glued to the dirt path. “No,” he tosses his answer behind his shoulder. “It was unrelated.”
Scully locks eyes with Mulder in the rearview mirror, a curious conversation taking place between their gazes.
They drive for nearly an hour, the truck bouncing over gravel and dirt roads as they make their way through the dense trees that line the Frio River. Sunlight dances through the leaves, their color retaining a dull green despite the month of October nearly falling into November. Despite her annoyance with the state, Scully finds herself admiring the beauty of the landscape surrounding them as well as the breezy mid-seventies weather that keeps them from having to bundle into thick sweaters. She voices these thoughts as Marcus pulls the truck into a clearing not far from the riverbank.
“Yeah, autumn in Texas can be nice for those that are used to bundling up. But don’t let the warm daytime fool ya. Those temps will drop when the sun does,” Marcus explains as he hops out of the pickup. Scully and the deputy work together unloading the various supplies while Mulder attempts to set up the bright orange tent along the edge of the clearing, sweat dripping from his brow.
“Deputy,” Scully begins, passing a lantern to Marcus who sets it atop the growing pile of items, “could there be any possibility that these deaths could be connected to the nearby Federal Correctional Institution?”
He stands tall, looking out at the peaceful river as he contemplates his answer. After a moment, he responds. “I thought about it. I did, but I’ve checked with the facility and all inmates are accounted for. And honestly, minus a small altercation back in ‘08, the area hasn’t seen much interaction.”
Scully slowly nods her head as she listens, closing the tailgate of the truck with a snap. “Well, I don’t know if I would call that a ‘small altercation’. My research, as limited as it has been, indicates that the riot left twenty-two prisoners injured and one dead. That seems like quite the incident, Deputy.”
“Wow,” he stares, his eyes wide, clearly impressed. “You’ve done your homework, Agent Scully.” He crosses to her side, his brown eyes locking with hers. “You know, we’re going to be spending a lot of time together over the next twenty-four hours, feel free to call me Marcus.”
Scully opens her mouth to respond, but is cut off by a loud and resounding “Son of a bitch!”
Mulder’s bellowing cry echoes off the trees surrounding the clearing as he struggles amidst the orange nylon. Marcus and Scully rush over, each grabbing a hand to help Mulder out of the tangled mess of the flaccid tent.
After the tent is finally constructed and standing firm, the three walk along the riverbank, the deputy pointing out the spots where bodies have been found along the way.
“The river really is beautiful,” Scully says, her gaze gliding over the calm, blue waters of the Frio River. A low sunlight glints off the surface and the sounds of birds searching for their next meal trickles through the leaves of the trees that surround them.
“I grew up swimming in this river. Because it’s spring-fed, its stays a brisk sixty-eight degrees year ‘round. Even in those sweltering Texas summers. It’s a popular tourist attraction from April to September. Most of the college kids in Austin head over to the Guadalupe or the Comal to float, so we get a lot of families who want to tube the river, but want to avoid all the co-ed craziness. But seeing it out here in late October,” Marcus pauses as he takes a breath, cool, fall air filling his lungs, “it’s strangely eerie seeing it so calm and quiet.”
The stillness around them is interrupted by a low rumble emanating from Mulder’s stomach. Mulder apologizes, sheepishly explaining he hadn’t eaten much at lunch.
“Well, let’s head back to the campsite, I’ve got a treat for you for dinner,” Marcus says, his hand brushing Scully’s shoulder as he passes ahead of her to lead the way back.
Mulder locks eyes with Scully in response to this flirtatious display from the deputy. Scully shakes her head, silently urging him to let it go as they follow behind.
Marcus forges ahead, oblivious to the interaction behind him. “I hope you don’t mind breakfast for dinner, I’ve brought along the ingredients and supplies needed to make chilaquiles.”
Arriving back at the campsite, Marcus digs through the stockpile of supplies and retrieves a small hatchet. “I really think you two are going to enjoy this. Eggs poached in salsa and it is by far my favorite meal to cook out when camping. Before we get started though, we’re going to need a fire and in order to start a fire, we need firewood.” Marcus holds the hatchet out to Mulder, who takes it from him, biting the inside of his cheek and nodding his head in understanding. Scully moves to join him, but Marcus stops her with a hand on her arm.
“Actually, Agent Scully, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind staying behind and helping me get started. I’m sure Agent Mulder can handle himself.”
Scully looks up to see Mulder roll his eyes before he turns and begins to head toward the tree-lined edge of the clearing. Suddenly he stops and turns back to call after her, “Scully, I still have your phone.”
She makes her way over to Mulder, one eyebrow raised high in confusion. “Mulder,” she whispers, “I have my phone.”
“Yeah I know.” Mulder looks over her shoulder to see Marcus with his back to them, bending over a large cooler. “I just wanted to make sure you don’t fall in love with the handsome ranchero.”
“Mulder, honestly,” Scully admonishes. “I think I can handle myself, thanks for your concern.” She turns back but Mulder grabs her by her arm, pulling her body along his own, his arm coming around to grip her low at the waist. He slams his mouth against hers, his tongue forcing her lips apart. The kiss is scorching, but quick. He lets her go and heads directly into the forest, leaving her wobbling, her knees weak. She takes a deep, shuddering breath and tames the smirk that has danced across her features before turning back towards the campsite.
She rejoins Marcus who has set up a small card table with a couple of cutting boards.
“I was thinking you could slice these tortillas into triangles while I chop up the onion and garlic,” he explains.
She remains quiet as she gets started, expertly wielding the knife as they work side by side.
After a few silent moments, Marcus clears his throat before speaking softly. “Dana, I need to be honest. I wanted a moment alone with you. I think you are,” he pauses, searching for the right words, “extraordinarily beautiful and despite the morbid situation that has brought us together, I am glad that you are out here.”
Her eyes go wide and she breathes deep, never once taking her eyes off her work. “Um, Marcus, look,” she stammers. “Mulder and I are uh…”
A sad smile stumbles across the deputy’s face. “I see. I didn’t realize the two of you were together. I am so sorry to assume.”
“No, it’s okay. There’s no reason for you to have known,” she reassures.
They continue their preparations, an awkward tension now hanging thick like a dense, humid fog. Neither are willing to look the other in the face as embarrassment takes full hold. The two surprise each other by speaking at the same time.
“How long have--”
“Marcus, I can’t help--”
A floundering chuckle escapes the deputy’s lips as he gestures for her to continue.
“Marcus,” Scully places the knife down and turns to look at him full on. “I don’t mean to make an uncomfortable situation worse, but…”
“It’s okay,” he interrupts, “I know what you’re about to say. I’m married. I know this isn’t going to make this any better, but we’re separated. We are uh, getting a divorce.”
“Yeah, me too. Look, I’m really sorry, let’s uh, can we just forget this ever happened?” Marcus asks, sweat beginning to bead on his forehead despite the dropping temperatures.
Scully smiles a sideways, reassuring grin, picking up her knife to finish her task. “It’s already forgotten.”
Later, Mulder and Scully sit together with their bellies full and a fire blazing in the center of the clearing. The deputy had been right, as the sun set, the weather turned cold. Mulder and Scully sit close, their thighs and arms touching as Marcus loads away the remainder of the cooking supplies back into the truck. Mulder tilts his head back, gazing up at the sublime beauty of the stars staring back at them.
“I love coming out to where light doesn’t pollute the sight of the stars. It’s such a beautiful night,” he whispers into Scully’s ear, his voice gentle in awe.
She tilts her head back as well, resting it upon his shoulder, sighing in agreement. “Reminds me of family vacations. Every summer we would pack the whole family up and take a giant Scully camping trip. Aunts, uncles, cousins, it was always a huge excursion. Every night, we all gathered around the campfire, s’mores smeared over all of our faces and Ahab would tell us all a ghost story.”
“You mean, little Dana Katherine sat there and willingly listened to tales of spirits and hauntings?” Mulder joked, his voice feigning incredulousness.
Scully playfully bumps his shoulder with hers before continuing with her story. “Of course, the stories were never that scary, but Bill and Melissa would always take it upon themselves to tell us far scarier tales after all the grown ups went to sleep. I remember one time, Melissa told a story about a boy who was begging for money to buy food for his family, but no one would help him. So out of desperation he went to a graveyard and dug up a body and took the organs out of the corpse to take home. His mother cooked them up and served them to the family. Later that night the ghost of the corpse visits the boy demanding he return his organs.”
Mulder leans back and stares at his partner, his eyes awash in awe, his mouth ajar.
“I know,” she continues, “Anyway, Charlie, he would have been about six years old at the time, was absolutely terrified, especially when Bill successfully convinced him that the burgers we all ate that night were made of a dead guy’s liver and heart.”
Their laughter resonates in the night as Marcus finishes cleaning up and joins them back at the fire.
After stoking the fire, Mulder looks to the deputy and asks, “Speaking of ghost stories, I was wondering, Deputy, if you wouldn’t mind telling us the full story of La ya-- yo--”
“La Llorona,” Marcus supplies. “Well, the legend is so old that no one actually knows when it originated. But the story goes something like this: there was a woman named Maria and she was the most beautiful woman in her whole village. I mean, she was absolutely gorgeous and boy did she know it. Men would constantly vie for her attention, but no one was good enough or handsome enough for her.”
“One day, a wealthy and very handsome ranchero rode into the village. Maria was instantly in love and she used her feminine wiles to make sure the ranchero noticed her. It worked, and the two struck up a torrid love affair. They decided to get married, but the ranchero was not a member of the village and Maria’s parents disapproved of the relationship, therefore, the marriage would not be officially recognized by the church. They did not care. The lived together for a few years, Maria eventually giving birth to two children. But eventually, the ranchero grew restless and tiresome of being tied down, and one day, he left Maria with nothing but a note saying he would visit when he could.”
“Over time, the ranchero would come to visit periodically, but he always paid more attention to the children than to Maria. This greatly angered her and that seed of resentment continued to grow until one day, while walking into town with her children at her side, she spotted the ranchero riding toward her in an elaborate carriage. Beside him sat a beautifully elegant lady. He pulled up alongside Maria, but completely ignored her, instead choosing to dote only on his children. Maria begged for him to come back to her, but he instead kissed his new bride, and rode off, never looking back.”
“Maria, blind with rage, threw her children into the Frio River where the rapid current quickly overcame them and they drowned while calling out for their mother. When Maria realized what she had done, she was inconsolable. Devastated, she threw herself into the cold, unforgiving river. In the afterlife, God met her at the gates of heaven, where Maria sought entry. But he looked her over and asked her one question: ‘Where are your children?’”
“When Maria couldn’t answer, The Lord banished her to earth and cursed her, telling her that she would never rest and find peace until she found her children. So now she roams the night, searching for her children to take back with her and punishing anybody that doesn’t treasure their family. Because of this, she is no longer known as Maria, but is instead called La Llorona, the weeping woman.”
“So,” Mulder starts, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “The locals are blaming La Llorona on all of the deaths. Have there been any connections between the victims and the folklore?”
“Well, no one’s looked into that. I mean, this is just a story. Bad things happen and people try to make sense of it so they throw some local superstition to it,” Marcus explains. “People are scared. It wasn’t long before folks started calling in with ‘tips’ that they heard La Llorona the night someone went missing.”
“Heard?” Scully asks.
“There’s a reason she’s called ‘the weeping woman.’ La Llorona is said to be heard crying and wailing in the night as she looks for her children.”
A loud, high pitched howl pierces the night just as Marcus finishes his sentence. Mulder and Scully immediately jump to their feet and reach for their weapons, only to find the deputy bent forward from the force of his laughter.
“Put your guns away! That’s just a coyote, and it’s probably a good mile or two away. Oh, I have a feeling we’re in for a long night,” Marcus chuckles.
“God, I hate Texas,” Scully groans under her breath as she re-holsters her pistol.
“In all seriousness,” Marcus says, “we do need to keep a lookout tonight near this river. Typically the bodies have been found within twenty-four to forty-eight hours after being reported missing. I’m pretty wired, so I don’t mind taking the first watch. I’ve set up my sleeping bag over there near the river bank, I’ll go make myself comfortable. You two get some sleep and I’ll wake you when it's time to switch.”
“Anybody got a newspaper? I’m gonna go find a tree, before retiring for the night,” Mulder quips as he heads into the woods.
Later, while Scully makes herself comfortable in the tent, Mulder returns to the campsite to find Marcus standing near his sleeping bag, whispering into his phone.
“Yeah...what? I’m sorry, the signal is shit out here. Yeah, me too, babe. ...Oh Gloria, you have no idea. Yeah I love you too,” Marcus hangs up his phone and turns to find Mulder standing right beside him.
“Oh, hi. Just saying good night to my wife. Did you need anything?” Marcus asks.
“Nope,” Mulder responds, stretching his arms over his head. “Just wanted to see if you needed anything from us before we call it a night.”
“No, sir. I’m all set. Like I said, I’ll wake you two up when it’s time to switch.”
“Okay then. Be careful, Deputy,” Mulder says as he turns to make his way back to the bright orange tent on the other side of the small clearing. He stops halfway to look back at Marcus. “Oh, Deputy?”
“I thought your wife’s name was Araceli.”
Marcus is silent. He stands still, clutching his phone so tight his knuckles turn white, his eyes boring into Mulder’s before he finally speaks.
“My personal life is my personal life, agent. Why don’t you focus on these missing children and less on me, okay?”
Mulder nods his head, biting his lower lip. “Sure thing,” he responds and crosses to his tent.
Mulder crawls in and zips the flap back up, his eyebrows dancing near his hairline.
Scully looks up from where she has nestled herself deep into her sleeping bag. “What’s that look for?”
He strips his shirt off and shucks off his jeans as he whispers, “I may have just overheard evidence that our deputy is cheating on his wife.”
Scully huffs, muttering under her breath, “Unbelievable.”
“What?” Mulder asks as he slips into his own sleeping bag.
She hesitates, unsure of how much to disclose, “I wasn’t going to tell you because it’s stupid and I was afraid of how territorial you get, but…”
“But?” he presses.
“He hit on me earlier. He claims he and his wife are in the process of getting a divorce.”
He is quiet behind her, processing this new bit of information. A moment passes, then two. Suddenly, he reaches over her, feeling around her sleeping bag before finding the zipper and sliding it down.
“Mulder? What are you doing?”
“Being territorial.” He states, matter-of-fact, and peels the top of the bag off of her.
“Mulder,” she hisses. “It’s freezing.”
“Don’t worry, I’m keeping you warm,” he crawls over and wraps his sleeping bag around both of them as he cuddles up behind her, pressing his hips into hers. “So, the handsome ranchero didn’t woo you away from me?”
“Most decidedly not.”
“Hmmm, that’s good,” he mutters into her hair, tightening his grip around her and pressing kiss after kiss along the slope of her neck. He pulls one arm underneath her to pillow her head and moves his other hand to her abdomen, working his hand underneath the silk of her pajamas to rest along her firm stomach. His fingers begin a maddening dance, caressing down to her navel before swiping up towards the curve of her breasts, his thumb reaching up to trace the edge of her areola.
Her breath quickens underneath his touch. She leans her head back onto his chest and whispers, wincing at the harsh rasp of her own voice, “Mulder, Marcus is just outside.”
He presses his face close to hers and with one long, slow swipe, he licks her earlobe. “Then I guess we better stay quiet,” the whispered temptation sliding like poison into her ear.
“Jesus,” she swears, before turning her head to meet his tongue with hers mid-air and blindly following it back into his mouth. His hand sweeps up to grasp the fullness of her breast, his thumb roughly prodding at the rising peak of her nipple. She pushes her hips back into his erection, eliciting a deep groan from Mulder, before attempting to fully turn around to face him. Before she can make the move, however, he grabs her by the shoulder and forces her to stay face-forward.
“Like this,” he breathes. He shoves her pajama bottoms and her underwear down to her thighs and she takes over, kicking them to the bottom of the sleeping bag.
He maneuvers his boxer shorts out the way before reaching around her to lift her thigh on top of his, opening her up and sliding the length of himself through the slickness of her sex. Slowly, he undulates, his cock slipping against her, the head bumping into her clit over and over and over again, driving her insane with torturous pleasure and brutal anticipation.
“God, Mulder. Just do it,” she hisses and braces herself for a forceful fucking.
But instead of slamming into her like she expects, he reaches down, gently guides his tip inside to her opening and begins the long, slow push inside of her, moving at a glacial pace. She can feel her eyes rolling to the back of her head as he slides ever-so-slowly deeper and deeper, feeling every hardened inch of him until he bottoms out inside of her. A whimper manages to escape her pursed lips and Mulder brings his index finger to rest against her mouth.
“Shhh,” his warm exhale pours out over her. She opens her lips and sucks the tip of his finger into her mouth and he grinds his pelvis deep into hers, a muffled groan getting lost in her tangled hair.
He retreats from her body just as slow as he entered, until only the very end of him remains, before repeating the entire snail’s pace again. He takes his time, pushing into her and grinding deep at the end of every drive. Their hips, slick with sweat, move together.
She writhes in agonizing ecstasy, desperate for more. She turns her head into his bicep underneath her. “Please, Mulder,” she begs. “Faster.”
He bares his teeth against her shoulder, his denial moaned into the flesh of her shoulder. The heat in the tent is stifling and her sweaty thigh threatens to slip off of his. He reaches down and holds her leg up for her. She’s so awash in pleasure that she nearly misses his strangled demand that she touch herself.
She brings a shaking hand to her nipples, roughly pinching and pulling at the sensitive tips before inching down her torso and circling her clit. Around and around she moves over her own skin, occasionally swiping a middle finger down to touch his heated flesh as it languidly drives into her. She feels him grow impossibly bigger and his pace slows even further, the grind of his body deeper and harder than she can ever remember in their decades spent together. His cock slows, but her fingers pick up speed and she swallows a scream as her entire body tenses and contracts. From her toes to the tips of each strand of hair she shakes, her body gripping and releasing him in endless phrases, desperate for the final punctuation.
He doesn’t make her wait for long. Shuddering, staccato breaths puff into her ear as he pours himself pulse after pulse inside her body. They both heave stilted sighs of relief as their eyes shut and their hearts calm and the peacefulness of sleep overtakes them.
Hours later, Scully wakes shivering from the intense cold that has settled bone deep. She shudders and nestles deeper into Mulder’s embrace when she sees the wisps of her own breath hovering before her. Closing her eyes, she attempts to fall back into peaceful slumber when a slight scratching distracts her. She opens her eyes, trying to pinpoint where exactly the soft, scraping sound is coming from. Is it inside the tent? She sits up, the sleeping bag slipping to her naked waist, and strains to discover the origins of the sound, the quiet rasping just loud enough to pull her attention away from the lures of sleep. After a moment, she gives up, convincing herself there must be a branch or a leaf rustling up against the nylon of the tent. Satisfied with her analysis she lays back down into Mulder’s sleeping embrace, pulling the edge of the sleeping bag up over her nose.
Peace dances over her once more, her limbs growing heavy, eyelids slipping shut, her breathing slowing to an even, deep rhythm that matches her partner’s. In they breathe. Out they exhale, the comfortable weight of slumber settling over her, lulling her back to sleep as one by one the noises of the forest disappear.
Her eyes fly open. She sits straight up, the sleeping bag falling once more. She turns her head left, then right, then to Mulder. Grasping him by the shoulder, she shakes him, the harsh whisper of his name filling the tent.
“What? What is it?” Mulder asks, blinking as he jolts awake.
“Listen,” she demands.
They freeze, Mulder’s eyes darting about the tent.
“I don’t hear anything,” he admits.
She’s right. The forest is completely silent. No wind blowing. No leaves rustling. The scratching on the outside of the tent has ceased. There are no chirpings of insects. Even the babbling of the river has grown quiet. The silence is nearly deafening, the pounding in their chests is the only noise they can register. Mulder and Scully face each other, their unease mirrored in each other’s wide-eyed gazes.
Mulder looks down at his arm, watching as goosebumps dot his skin and the hairs of his forearm slowly stand up tall. The aura within the tent has turned nearly electric, the static dancing along the backs of their necks. He swallows. Even the air has turned metallic, the taste of blood off putting as he tries to make sense of the stillness and stunning quiet that hangs over them.
Suddenly, the thick silence is pierced by a sharp, ear splitting wail. Mulder and Scully grab their ears immediately trying to stifle the blood-curdling scream that assaults their senses. The cry gets impossibly louder. Scully lunges backwards, away from Mulder who reaches for her.
He calls out for her, attempting to yell over the deafening howl, “What? Scully, what is it?”
Her response is a lifted hand, her finger shaking and pointing over his shoulder, her eyes wide and pupils expanding.
He flits around to see the unmistakable imprint of two hands pressing and pushing against their tent, the fabric stretched thin under the pressure as the keening gets even louder around them. Mulder and Scully scramble for their weapons, pointing the guns at the ghoulish hand prints that continue to push into the tent.
The sound of tearing fabric adds to the bedlam. Mulder and Scully watch, seemingly helpless with their guns drawn as tiny, triangular points of jagged fingernails pierce the barrier of the orange tent. They scream as the distinct smell of decay infiltrates their space, the green and brown edges of the rotted nails splitting through the nylon.
Just as quickly as the noise began, it stops. The hands immediately disappear, the sounds of the forest return, as if nothing out of the ordinary ever happened.
The unsettling return to normalcy propels the two agents into action. The pull on their respective clothing and scramble out the tent. They rush over, guns drawn, to where Marcus had set himself up to keep watch. They find only the tattered remains of the sleeping bag, the deputy nowhere to be seen.
“Deputy!” Scully calls out, while Mulder surveys the torn material and scattered leaves and branches.
From a distance, the keening wail sounds forth once more, echoing off the trees. The river suddenly roars, the calm steady stream of before now replaced with a terrible, chaotic current, water rushing and slamming onto the riverbank.
Mulder yells to Scully to follow the cry, and the two take off towards the noise, calling for the deputy. They run, branches scratching their faces and arms as they barrel through the woods. Suddenly, the cry changes. It surrounds them. Mulder and Scully jolt to a stop, dead leaves swirling around them. The wail comes at them from opposite ends of the forest. Scully begins to follow, turning in the direction of where they just came, but Mulder grabs her by the wrist, roughly pulling her back.
“Mulder, we have to follow that cry!”
“It’s trying to split us up. We have to stay together,” he implores. “Follow the river!”
They bolt ahead, following the rush of the water. The river bends and as they turn to follow they stop short. There, in the middle of the turbulent deluge, is Marcus, sputtering and desperately slapping at the waves as he struggles for purchase. Mulder immediately starts to run for him, preparing to dive in, but Scully lunges for him, grabbing him by the belt loops to pull him back.
“Mulder, you can’t! The current is too strong!”
Mulder looks around, frantically searching for something, anything, to save the drowning deputy. He reaches for a branch that is hanging haphazard from a dying tree. Twisting and pulling and throwing his weight down, he finally manages to free the branch from the grasp of the trunk. Scully rushes over to help him drag the wood to the edge of the river. Together, they hold the branch out.
It’s not close enough. Marcus flails, his fingertips scraping against the bough.
‘It’s not long enough!” Mulder yells. “If we can just get it out a little farther--”
They lean further, the branch inching closer to the struggling deputy. Marcus grasps it, his fingers digging into the wood when all of a sudden a deathly pale figure rises out of the whirlpool, her face as white as the drenched and tattered rags that hang from her wraithlike form. Her eyes, black and dead, look out at the two desperate agents. She hovers, raising one hand and placing it atop Marcus’ head. She clenches her fingers, the decayed nails piercing the skin of his forehead, Blood streams into his eyes before she forces his head down below the waves. She tilts her head back at an unnatural angle and her jaw seems to unhinge as she lets out a horrible bellowing cry.
Scully lets go of the branch to point her gun at the woman in white, firing round after round into the wailing form as Marcus fights for his life under the water. The ghostly figure holding the deputy down is unmoved. She continuous to cry and pushes Marcus’ head further down until without warning, everything stops.
Marcus ceases his struggling and the woman in the middle of the water vanishes. The river slows, the current once again calm. Mulder immediately dives in, swimming to the center where he wraps his arms around the still body of the deputy and drags him to the shore. Scully helps to pull him out of the river and tears open his shirt. She beings compressions, crouching over him, pushing at the center of his chest, at the base of his sternum. She continues for what seems like eternities, but it is useless. He’s gone.
Just as she turns to deliver this news to Mulder, another cry pierces the night. They turn toward the sound to see the woman in white hovering in the midst of the trees, her arms wrapped around two small boys, their blond hair covered in leaves and twigs. They cry out for help as she tightens her grip, her wailing becoming even more intense.
Mulder jumps to his feet, bounding toward the apparition, but stops short as she suddenly moves over the bank of the river, the children’s feet dangling above the water.
“No!” he yells. He rushes forward again, but as soon as he moves, the figure allows the boys to drop further towards the water. When he stops, the figure tightens her grip. Suddenly, behind him, he hears the voice of his partner, in every sense of the word, cry out.
The wailing stops. The figure locks her dead, coal eyes with Scully.
“Let them go. They’ve done nothing to you. Take me.”
“What? Scully, no!” Mulder turns toward her, but Scully stops him with a raised hand.
“It’s me you want,” Scully forges ahead, ignoring Mulder’s plea.
The wraith slowly hovers toward the shoreline, depositing the children onto a tree hanging over the river. Mulder yells at the boys to hang on as he makes his way toward them. The ghostlike form slowly approaches Scully as she continues to talk.
“You punish those who don’t treasure their families. Well, I didn’t treasure mine.”
Mulder stops, inches from the tree, to look back. “Scully, no!” he yells back again.
“I threw,” Scully bends at the waist, the weight of her confession too much to bear. She struggles past the tears that choke her to continue, “I threw my child away. Tossed him out like garbage.”
The figure now rushes at her. Stopping short, she thrusts her bony fingers into Scully’s hair, violently yanking her head back. Scully gags on the stench of mold and decay that surrounds her. The air around them has turned frigid, ice crystals forming on her eyelashes.
Jerking her head back even further, Maria rises up to look deep within the blue pools of her eyes. Tears flow from Maria’s cold, empty, black eyes and she breathes in, a rush of oxygen forcefully leaving Scully’s mouth to enter between Maria’s pale lips. Scully feels like the ghost is breathing in her very soul. Everything around them seems to freeze. She hears nothing. She sees nothing. She only knows that her very life is breathed into this horrific being.
Maria abruptly lets her go and she falls to her knees, coughing and sputtering into the dirt. Maria backs away, opening her mouth. Scully is shocked, when instead of the terrible cry, Maria begins to speak.
“No. No,” she utters, shaking her head back and forth as she slowly backs away from Scully. “You did not throw him away. You gave him up out of love.”
Maria unhinges her jaw once more and lets forth a keening wail borne of the pain only a grieving mother can know. Scully knows this cry. She has made the same sound before.
The cry builds, seemingly emanating from the very river itself as the ghost flies up towards the sky and then barrels down, throwing herself into the cold waters of the Frio River.
Days later, back home at their unremarkable house, Mulder calls for Scully to join him for dinner. She yells down that she will be there in second. Their bedroom, awash in steam from her shower, is softly lit by a lone lamp atop her night stand. Scully takes the towel from her head and runs it through her tresses as she sits on the edge of the bed. She hesitates for merely a second, maybe two, before reaching for the top drawer of the nightstand.
She pulls out the wrinkled, creased photo and stares longingly at the baby picture, running her thumb gently over the image. She closes her eyes and prays the prayer she always does when she looks at this picture. She prays for immense blessings over her son’s life. She prays for his safety and his happiness and she always ends her prayers bittersweetly praying for this parents.
She whispers a soft ‘amen’, but as she reaches for the drawer to return the photo, she notices her fingers are damp, water dripping down her wrist. She turns the photograph over and sucks in a deep breath at what she finds. There, on the back of the long-treasured image of her son, she finds writing. A long, cursive script flowing across the surface.
“You are looking for your children, too.”
Without warning, the ink liquefies, flowing off the photograph and down her forearm. She drops the picture and watches in horror as the image of her son floats on top of an ever growing puddle of freezing cold water.